Editor's note: This is a story of how one person came to appreciate the experience of nakedness. Please email comments to the author, Jan Braswell, at email@example.com.
I remember being at the playground when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old, early on a weekend morning, when a little boy arrived in wet diapers and very sensibly took them off in order to run around and join the play and sit in the sand. Another girl took him home pretty soon, recognizing that he was too young to have come to the playground without his parents' permission. This was obvious to me and to her, but many of the other kids had already been indoctrinated against nudity. They thought he had to be taken home because he was indecent. A two-year-old? This event was very curious to me, since I recognized that the children were imitating the actions and attitudes of each other and their parents. Without knowing the word for it, I still recognized the conventionality that drove them to imitate others in this way.
That same summer, or maybe the next, another little girl suggested that she and I and a third little girl pull down our pants and show our pudenda to each other. It was a matter of play for them and curious indifference to me. I was more interested in why they cared than in the physical exploration. The third girl, smilingly happily and playfully, displayed obviously unusual genitalia, and the first girl responded by saying something like, "Oh, yuck! I'm going to tell my mother!" I had no idea how to handle this, but I knew right then that a great injury had been perpetrated. That little girl, I learned later, underwent several surgeries and a very depressing puberty.
During one of those pre-pubescent years I skinny-dipped with my mother one time, my father watching over us above the river bank. Her squeals were louder than the chill of the water could account for, and she never stopped smiling. It's the only sober laugh I remember hearing from my mother while I was growing up. I also used to wash my father's back when young; that was one of our rituals, along with watching the fights on Friday nights. Both rituals stopped after my first brother was born, except that after I started menstruating, my mother out-of-the-blue instructed me to go wash my father's back. He was very quiet throughout and this is the only memory of his penis I have, as if I never noticed it during those previous baths. My father died at age 36 of a heart attack and my mother is a proudly recovering alcoholic today.
Much of my childhood, as I remember it, was spent observing and listening. I was not as compelled as others to act out or experiment, with one exception. Two boys were gleefully pulling wings and legs off grasshoppers one day, and I noticed their strange expressions. This was something I couldn't figure out by observation alone, so on another day soon after, I ran an experiment. There was a spider I'd been watching for a while, managing to see it once as it captured and gorged on prey. Well, I caught it in a jar when other kids were gathered around and made them stop and look. Then I let this spider out, and as it was walking away I slowly lifted my foot, clad in a white sandal that I could probably recognize today, and then brought it down and squished the spider. And I understood the looks on those boys faces, because I could feel it on my own, even as I retched at the horror of what I had done and the sight of that black and yellow smear on the concrete.
Why is this even pertinent to a story of how I got into nudism? Well, I'll have to tell about more of those kinds of boys and how they awakened my sexuality while also awakening shame. Or rather, I can't separate those boys from the others who came later. Or the cruelty later visited on me reverberated with my previous cruelty to the spider. I don't know. They are just inseparable.
When I was in fifth grade I had a boyfriend who was shorter than me, and another boy wanted to take his place. He insulted me and my boyfriend, and since I was bigger, I took it upon myself to defend our honor with a proper fistfight. By this age I was starting to engage life, you see, rather than just observe. Later a third boy, after ominously forewarning me, grabbed me on the way home from school to steal a kiss. Indignant and incensed, I told my mother, who called the school. Well, the school official suspected that I was the one who had been the aggressor, considering that one incident made me incorrigible. My mother decided to believe them.
I can't totally blame my mother here, because in kindergarten at a different school I ran a "witch gang" of girls who grabbed the boys for me to kiss. The teacher, the principal and my parents thought we were horrid, but it was screaming good fun at the time. However, when a worse situation arose two years after this fifth-grade kiss, it never occured to me to tell anyone because I had burned an important bridge inadvertently.
What happened is this: two boys, Jack and Britt, ages 15 and 14, came to my house early one morning when I was alone and still in my shortie pajamas. I had opened the door because my friend Peggy had just called to say she was coming over. (Jack was her boyfriend, and Peggy liked to draw pictures of penises, presumably his. Drawing them with her was another example of curious indifference on my part.) Jack and Britt had visited before, so although I was uncomfortable about it, I let them in and started off to my room to get dressed. But they followed me down the hall.
Jack grabbed me from behind, wrestled me to the floor, put his hand between my legs and I froze at that moment. Britt, standing over us, said, "Hey, she likes it!" I think my obvious and extreme mortification was what stopped it from going any further. But it went far enough to very effectively short-circuit the connection between my genitals and my brain for many years. When I lost my virginity, I had to ask, "Is it in yet?" and I don't think it was only the large quantity of alcohol I'd consumed that had dulled my senses.
A few years later another fifteen-year-old boy tried much the same thing with me, but this time on the sidewalk of a deserted street at night. Having already been desensitized, literally, it was much less traumatic. Even better, I had the pleasure of catching him myself, with a little help, and presenting him to the police.
So, how in the world was I able to become a nudist? Well, if nudity were primarily sexual, or somehow asexual or anti-sexual, or less than invigorating and joyful, I probably never would have. And if I hadn't needed radical change in my life I probably would have gone on as I was, but more slowly. As it was, I coped and made progress.
By the time I was thirty, I had finally overcome shame and frigidity to the point of being able to fully enjoy sex, as long as my partner demonstrated he could be trusted unconditionally. This meant that sex had to be taken rather seriously. My first marriage had failed, partly for sexual reasons, and in between was bleak. The girl who ran witch gangs and experiments wrote dry-as-dust computer programs, wore suits, spoke little, and dreamed too often of spiders and 15-year-old boys and their grins.
Well, I managed to find someone I could trust and love, and did so for a couple of very happy years, until he died suddenly of a heart attack. The grief overwhelmed me for quite a while. And then a good friend -- a jolly, bearded man who organized the after-hours shifts of co-workers who babysat until I was ready to leave for my empty house -- encouraged me to visit a place in the Santa Cruz mountains called "Getting In Touch." This was aa massage school and nudist retreat, now defunct. And this was where I began to heal, partly because I had to, and partly because the environment made a beginning practically inevitable.
My first visit was for a weekend massage workshop. I arrived early and there was no one available to show me around or get me oriented. I was perfunctorily escorted to the locker room and invited to relax a while at the pool or hot tub. I think that not making a big deal about it, assuming that I could handle getting naked in public for the first time with no guidance, actually made it easier than otherwise. I stripped down, alone in the locker room, stepped out the door and Wham! Two instant miracles: no part of me was divided from another and the breeze in my pubic hair tickled deliciousy! I wished right then that I hadn't made a point of having my legs waxed, another new experience, the day before.
This felt so good, with no intimation of shame whatsoever, it was easy to dare the next move. So I travelled around the building and took the long, long walk across the lawn to reach the pool. When I got there, I noticed one young man nearby in the hot tub, not looking my way. So far so good. But then there was the problem of making the transition from a standing position to a reclining position on the lounge. And not knowing what was acceptable. I mean, there are rather inscrutable rules about not displaying some of our clothes -- our underwear -- when we're dressed, so maybe there were equally inscrutable rules about not displaying some of our bodies while nude.
I managed to lie down, straining my knee joints in order to be as decorous as possible. Eventually I got a bit bored and a little more adventurous, and decided to get in the hot tub and try having a conversation with a complete stranger while nude. The young man, I concluded later, was either a gigolo-in-training or had missed his calling. He was gentle and good natured, low-key, discretely aware of my awkwardness and the opportunity to help. The nicest thing he did was demonstrate that it was indeed okay to bend over. He declared that the hot tub was too hot, fetched some buckets and dipped water from the pool to cool it, while easily bending, squatting or stooping as necessary. Which that two-year-old in the playgound knew and I had completely forgotten. The second nicest thing he did was give me my first massage and then allow me to reciprocate. Without a hint of sexual invitation. He let me be in control of what he saw was my first nudist experience, and by instinctively following my own inclinations without censure, it was nothing less than just what I needed.
The whole weekend was as delightful and all-around-awareness-building as that first afternoon. I can't say it was merely mind-opening, because it was much more than conscious awareness that was expanded. I wish I had kept a journal. As it was, I managed to arrange a month away from work and returned that summer, the summer of '82, for a full massage course. During this time I was totally and exclusively physical and social. I didn't read one book. I didn't see a computer or a TV. I did dishes for fun. I slept on the floor in a big hall with 30 other snoring, farting people, and I slept like a baby.
We massaged each other all day five days a week under supervision and experimented nights and weekends, with feathers and beards! And we played. In the sun, on the lawn, between the trees, in the creek, in the pool, in the shower after a food fight. We loved and laughed as children do before they learn fear. I played as if I had never known fear. I relearned trust and unlearned the differences between men and women and boys and girls. I also cried and grieved and others cried with me. And every tear of sorrow was joyous and beautiful. To cry for death is to cry for life. I had been grieving for death before I knew what it was to be fully alive. Perhaps because of that.
One of the people I played with, on a deeper and more intimate level, was Chuck, the man I married three weeks later (yes, weeks), and have been married to for over fourteen years. We spend every winter with other naked folks since he retired. I wish we still were associated with Getting In Touch, which was a truly remarkable place. But we do have the memories. I still write computer programs, but only for fun, and I now read philosophy with the same attention I once gave to technical manuals.
The difference between being clothed and being naked for me at that time was precisely equivalent to the difference between being dead and being alive. Nothing less. I later found the expression of this in _The Little Prince_, particularly in the pool. I know without doubt that the depths of joy are inevitably entwined with the depths of sorrow. I know that people are so much alike that we understand more about each other than we can say, at least not without poetry. And that what we don't know of others is only what we fear knowing of ourselves.
Copyright 1997 by Janet K. Braswell
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